The past year has been quite a roller coaster of emotions.
Last year we were informed that my sister-in-law had major surgery the week of Christmas. What was suppose to be a three hour surgery turned in to a marathon eight hour surgery.
The year before we were told my sister-in-law had cervical cancer. She was informed while she was pregnant and decided to go through with the pregnancy and had a beautiful baby girl. After the birth she began her radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
In January of 2016 we had a tumultuous New Year’s when our old car broke down on the freeway and we finally called in our family favor and got a new car thanks to my brother-in-law who works for a car dealership. It was his wife who was sick. We had hardly spoken to him or his wife about her illness. It wasn’t until we spoke with some of his colleagues that we were reassured that he had people who he could talk to about what he and their family were going through. We had always been concerned and attempted to talk to them both about what was going on with them but they were always very private and guarded.
I never blamed them for not wanting to talk to us about it. What did we know? How could we even begin to understand what they were going through? We don’t have children. They both have kids from previous relationships and new baby girl together. We lived in the city and they lived in the suburbs. We lived very different lives beyond those small things and it felt like this made the divide even wider. My sister-in-law and I were similar in some ways, but very different people and saw the world very differently. We were cordial to each other but not very close. My husband and his brothers were close, but the wives were a different story. We tried. We attempted. We just never seemed to find anything in common except for loving our husbands and our families.
My sister-in-law had always been a little vain. I remember the first time we met at a Mother’s Day brunch for my mother-in-law and she complained about the one grey hair she found and was trying to hide it. She was always well dressed for any occasion, whereas I had reused the same black dress for over a dozen family weddings. She always bought thoughtful gifts and we tried to figure who we could afford to get gifts for every Christmas. We may not have always gotten along but I respected her for always doing her best for her children and family and making my brother-in-law happy.
Then the news got worse. Multiple hospital visits. Emergency surgeries. Wheelchairs. Hair wraps and wigs. A colostomy bag.
She was in the hospital for almost a week when Mother’s Day came along. The entire family visited her in the hospital for the holiday. That was when I finally realized things were not going to get better. She could no longer walk on her own. She couldn’t hug or hold her daughter without assistance. I finally saw how much hair she had lost.
The day after she was released from the hospital we celebrated their daughter’s second birthday party at their home with immediate family. If things weren’t already heart breaking that was the day I wanted to scream. I don’t know how she did it but she walked. She stood in front of that birthday cake and had us sing “Happy Birthday” several times in a row. She must have been on a giant cocktail of drugs and had the iron will of a giant to push through all the pain she must have been experiencing and do everything she could for her daughter. We all realized this would be the last birthday party she would be able to attend for any or her children.
The rest of the summer we spent every spare minute visiting and bringing groceries for the family. Every weekend. Every summer holiday. We spent every moment with our family knowing that every moment counted. August was the hardest month. There were a few days when she wouldn’t wake up because she was in so much pain. The family gathered in vigil fearing the worst.
Then she suddenly had a burst of energy and was requesting her favorite foods. One day I came by after work bringing groceries that included artichokes. They were her favorite and she began to tell me how she made a dipping sauce for them. She asked if I could make them for her. I had never successfully made artichokes in my life. I did my best to not fuck it up. She called out to me while I was over and we talked about foods we both liked and how to cook them. It was the best conversation I’d ever had with her. When I got home I broke down in tears.
They had a hospice nurse helping them for a few weeks, but then the nurse said there was nothing else they could do to help and they stopped coming by. I was fearful of the kids being home alone should something happen. I started to go by the house everyday. Cleaning. Playing with the two year-old. Talking to the boys. Talking to her.
The day she passed away she was surrounded by family in her home. We got a phone call at 4 am that it happened. We rushed over to be with the family. We were all there when the coroners came to take her. We spent the next week together in mourning. Some preparing for the funeral. Others just coming to terms living in world without her.
After the funeral and after the reception we ended the night at their home with all of our family singing karaoke. That night my two year-old niece learned how to sing Prince’s “Purple Rain” all by herself. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and the most heart breaking moment realizing her mother didn’t get to witness it. Some people mourn in silence. That evening we mourned singing together at the top of our lungs following my niece’s lead.
Singing. Loving. Making new memories. Reliving old memories.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I haven’t thought about her. Remembered her. My niece is the living embodiment of her mother. Her memory lives on in her.
After the election these memories are even more important to me. Hearing how people are being treated and how words of hate are being used more and more against the people they are suppose to love makes it harder to stay silent.
Love each other. Cherish each other. This holiday season every memory counts.